A Thespians’ Regale

Beer Cuisine; Mixed ale

The Cliff, or Cliff Hotel, was an upscale hotel built in North Scituate, Mass. in 1896. Surviving postcards and other ephemera depict a handsome, rambling white clapboard. This hotel image showing surrounding aspect is via Mass. Digital Commonwealth:

 

 

The Cliff was a lodestone of the area social scene for much its existence, but all ended in a fierce 1974 conflagration.

In 1900 the trade journal Hotel Monthly printed a menu served at The Cliff to a “company of actors”. Beer figured not a little – it is mentioned three times, yet beer dinners were unusual in American gastronomy at the time.

 

 

They play a moderate role in the culinary scene today, assisted by the craft beer revival. Still, meals oriented to beer did exist in earlier times. I have described a number of these. They included a German-American dinner served in 1898 at the Pabst Estate outside Milwaukee, and Virginia Elliott’s menus published not long after Prohibition.

The Cliff’s menu for an actors’ troupe was a set affair, probably a luncheon or post-performance supper. No detail is given for the players, who must have performed at a local theatre, or perhaps in the hotel.

Scituate is old, seaside New England, of which North Scituate is an extension. Scituate was settled by emigrants from Kent, U.K. in the early 1600s. Today it is a suburban idyll, one that ramps up in summer for the “season”.

A town webpage offers good historical background.

The actor’s  menu started with a pre-meal bracer, Manhattans, a cocktail well established in the Northeast by then. Some Europeans worried – and still do – that strong drink before the food ruins the meal to come.

Americans were insouciant about this – and some still are.

The next drink was “mixed ale”. Mixed ale had special significance between the 1880s and about 1910. It meant a mixture of beer leavings or stale beer, hence it was none too refined a drink. Saloons might specialize in mixed ale sometimes adding camphor, grain alcohol, or other suspect ingredients.

At the bottom end of the trade mixed ale might induce a clattering or worse in the drinker. Criminality was often associated with its bibbing according to press reports of the time.

Mixed ale in figurative terms denoted low living, something disreputable or tawdry. A fighter past his prime might be termed a “mixed ale pugilist”.

The theatre can have its raffish side, so the connection with the stage is not surprising. At least one burlesque was titled Mixed Ale. Billy Golden, a vaudevillian of the day, sang a song called Mixed Ale, a strange, yodelling tune.

The Sun in New York in 1894 conducted a social investigation into mixed ale, which you may read hereIt noted:

 

No drink ever invented by man for the delight or destruction of his fellow man so characterizes its imbiber as mixed ale. A man may drink whiskey sours and be either a Southern Colonel or a backwoods sport; he may drink gin fizzes and be a gay and giddy clubman or simply a sufferer from weak kidneys; he may stick to plain seltzer and not be a temperance advocate necessarily, but perhaps a penitent of last night’s revels … and simply because a man opens champagne, that does not stamp him as a millionaire; he may be a wine agent. As for beer, everybody drinks beer who drinks anything; but when you see an individual swagger up to the bar, fix the barkeeper with a menacing eye and growl, “Gimme a cooler o’ mixed ale”, you can set him down as a good person to keep away from.

The Sun explained, in a way a beer historian understands completely, that mixed ale originally was a worthy drink: new ale and old ale combined. But in time it became something different, a cheap simulacrum.

Mixed ale at a high-end hotel likely was not the degraded form. Quite possibly it was lager and ale mixed, which is one form of American musty ale.

Alternatively it was perhaps a respectable, proprietary mixture of beers, some were marketed in the period.*

It’s apearance on the players’ menu was surely an in-joke and pleasing to the actors Bing served. Just as 1960s hippies neutralized the charge of “freak” by adopting it as honorific (“Gonna wave my freak flag high”, sang Jimi Hendrix), the histrionic patrons didn’t mind being typed a mixed ale troupe.

The respectable nature of the meal was emphasized by the second beer served, King’s Bohemian lager, from a Massachusetts brewery.

Nothing was more chic in the beer world then than pale, light Bohemian lager.

At Worthpoint, a pre-Prohibition bottle of King’s may be seen. In that period the brewery was called Continental Brewing Co. The same plant marketed King’s malt tonic during Prohibition. King’s Bohemian Beer returned to the market after Repeal in 1933, but the return was evanescent.

If two servings of beer weren’t enough for the players, a third was available, signalled by the laconic “More Beer”. Nothing sums up the beer ethos better.

As to food, there was broiled lobster, much associated with beer in the Gilded Era. And tomato salad – tomato was just starting its culinary career as a fresh vegetable, vs. always cooked to disguise its once-suspect origins.

Three sandwiches were offered, of plain ingredients but surely toothsome in the all-organic, local market days. To end, “cheesed crackers”, perhaps like cheese sticks, and fruit.

Suitable provender for a beer-fuelled affair: not too heavy, which made room for the semi-food, beer.

The Cliff’s steward, L.F. Brundage was, in the cant of the day, a long-time “hotel man”, see p. 14 in the same volume of Hotel Monthly. He knew his trade, which meant knowing your customers.

Mixed ale, by his plan clearly, served as set dressing in the dining room that night, a gesture the actors had to appreciate. After all, a good dining room ends as a playhouse itself.

Most actors are demonstrative either by nature or profession. I’m sure they toasted old Brundage with verve, for a grateful respite from a long tour on the provincial boards.

Note re images: source of images above is identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*See e.g. Alfred Rickerby’s registration for this and other beer mixtures. He was a bottler in Brooklyn, NY.

 

 

2 thoughts on “A Thespians’ Regale”

  1. I am absolutely certain that some of the bars around Toronto we students drank in back in the early eighties were proud purveyors of mixed ale. They just didn’t know to call it that. Just like I have no desire to visit a hot dog factory, I don’t think I want to know the provenance of what went into the pitchers in those days.

    Reply
    • I’ve heard something about this, can’t place where I read it. Something about hotels in the west end that would mingle jug ends (I hope not bottoms of glasses) and similar. And they would charge a cut price for it.

      In the UK, there was an actual system where pump drippings were re-cycled back to the barrels, until food standards laws stopped it.

      You may recall too that in the old days, when Brewers’ Retail sent back stock more than three months old (gone with the winds, that one), some brewers tipped the bottles back into the vats. Stock ale, so to speak.

      Mixing in various ways is age-old in brewing but the New York practice at end of 1800s seems particularly egregious.

      Reply

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